Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Get your purple on, hon

Baltimore is beaming with Ravens pride. We're going to the Super Bowl. Really and truly. We are going the Super Bowl (had to repeat it...) Everywhere you go, people are decked out in purple. They're happy. Smiling. And, asking, "Where are you gonna watch the game?"

What I'm more interested in knowing, however is..."What are you gonna EAT while you watch the game?" Here are some ideas if you want to add a little purple pride to the boofay without hitting the food color.

Fruit platter of grapes, blueberries, blackberries

Also, our friends down at the Four Seasons Harbor East are serving up some purple goodness now through the big game. Thanks to rock star pastry chef Chris Ford, LAMILL is offering purple macarons for $1.50 (filling flavors changing all week long) as well as a special Ravens cupcake - a chocolate cupcake with a purple vanilla buttercream for $2.75 each, $15 half-dozen and $29 dozen. And at Wit & Wisdom, you can have a purple Ravens Royale cocktail - vodka, gin, purple honey and lemon juice, topped with sparkling wine. And...at brunch on Sunday, you can enjoy bottomless purple mimosas. Yikes, sounds like fun! Check out their Facebook page for more info.

While many downtown restaurants close for dinner Super Bowl Sunday, lots of places are offering specials! Here's Richard Gorelick's rundown.

As for me, I feel compelled to watch the big game where I watched the AFC Championship - in my living room in the Hampdens. There will be lots of worrying, pacing, yelling and yes...eating.


p.s. Here are some of my favorite non-purple tailgate-esque party foods.

White Chicken Chili from America's Test Kitchen (it has a kick!)
Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw by Smitten Kitchen
Old Bay Wings from Food & Wine
Pan-fried Onion Dip from Ina Garten
Rosemary Lemon White Bean Dip from Mark Bittmann
Beef Sliders from Martha Stewart
Mexican Layer Dip from Pioneer Woman

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Backyard Chickens in Charm City

So, you have a friend in the country with chickens. Or, you read an article online about people in Brooklyn raising chickens on a rooftop. Or maybe you opened up the new Williams-Sonoma Agrarian catalog and thought...I want chickens! Then you start to wonder if they're even allowed where you live. Well, if you live in Baltimore City, here's some advice from someone who's recently jumped into city chicken keeping.

First, this article from Earth 911 asks some key questions to see if chicken keeping is for you.

If you live in Charm City,  here are the basics:

You must obtain a permit from Animal Control - 410-396-4698
You must register your flock with the Maryland Department of Agriculture - 800-492-5590
The coop must be movable and cannot be within 25 feet of any residence
10 hens allowed per household - no roosters

When I got my chickens two years ago, I did it completely backwards. Here is the order o' biz if you live in Baltimore City: 1) build your coop 2) have it inspected...then...3) get your chickens. This is not completely clear when you call the City, but I'm told the coop needs to be approved sans chickens. I already had chickens in my coop when it was inspected. I was nervous about it since I'm such a rule follower! But it seemed fine...no big drama. The Animal Control officer could not have been nicer.

Once you have built your coop, figured out a routine and have your permit...you're good. Chickens are excellent low-maintenance pets that give you something amazing in return for your love and care - those delicious eggs. They are not, however, leave-for-a-long-weekend animals. They need to be checked on daily - fresh food and water are both key. You'll need to clean out the coop no less than once a week - otherwise, you might have a smelly coop and NO ONE likes a smelly coop. And, every single night, you must make sure they are securely locked inside the henhouse - this is really important.

This past summer, I thought I'd expand the flock and got three new baby chicks. I ordered them online this time (that way, they were 95% guaranteed to be hens.) Sadly, they ended up getting killed by a predator at about six weeks old - we think it was a raccoon or fox. Here's where I wrote about it. Their coop (separate, smaller, temporary) was not quite secure enough and it was just so sad. I cried. (A lot.) But, it happens all the time in more rural areas, so I knew that it was possible in my little backyard, too. The next flock I get will most likely not get names. That's just trouble for someone as sentimental as me. When my three girls stop laying in a few years, I will give them to my friend out in the country. As much as I want to walk the walk of this whole sustainable, local life, I don't think I could cook my hens. Maybe without names next time, that might not be as much of an issue. We'll see, I suppose...

I love my girls. They are chatty, friendly and very smart. Nope, that last one was a lie - they are pretty dumb. But I love them anyway. They follow me everywhere in the backyard and get along well with my yellow lab, Henry. I've also taken the girls to the school where I work to visit the kids - kinda like show & tell. Now when I see them on campus, they shout, "Hey, Chicken Lady!"

Also, if you decide to go down this road, consider getting a backyard composter - your chickens will poop a LOT and that stuff makes the best fertilizer ever!

The first egg

Ah, Gertie...she turned out to be a rooster. Sweet one, too.

 Letting Henry know who's in charge.

The reason for the chickens!

Millie and Dottie

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mac 'n Cheesy Goodness

Since becoming an avid home cook - and giving up cable for about two years - I've begun to appreciate the cooking shows on PBS. You know, the ones hosted by Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, José Andrés, Lidia Bastianich and...America's Test Kitchen. You know the show - they work and work and work on recipes and figure out how they come out best - and then, they show you how to do it. I've learned such helpful, basic tips (for example: always cook pasta about two minutes less than the package states.) I've also become a Cook's Illustrated online member so that I can check out videos and recipes whenever I want. In addition to recipes and cooking tips, they also have equipment and ingredient ratings, too. Best olive oil, immersion blenders, knife sharpeners and more. What a fabulous resource - well worth the $35 annual online fee.

I'd been looking for a good, classic mac 'n cheese recipe and saw Julia and Chris make it on a recent episode of ATK. Their recipe is a crowd (and kid) pleaser and uses very basic, yet tasty, cheeses - Monterey Jack and cheddar. While I love Ina's, as well as Martha's (but it dirties TOO MANY pots and pans) the ATK just may be my fave. Here is the recipe.

p.s. I got cable again a few months ago. Love Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel and of course, Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What's up, Puddin?

Comfort food. I've written about it before. I love what it does. It has a job.

Two years ago when my brother died after a mind blowing two week illness, my family needed comfort. After the funeral some of us gathered and I cooked. The night before, I had thought about what to make...and I decided that soup was the winner. And it had to be comforting soup, so I made Ina Garten's Cheddar Corn Chowder. I'd made it many times before and it's delicious, filling and most of all, comforting. Kids and adults alike, everyone loved it. We sat around that table and multiple servings were had by many, me included. My sister-in-law Karen even made us all laugh and I was so thankful for that. What a terrible time that was, but I honestly felt like the food helped a little.

Last month, my two best friends had major family medical traumas and needed some comfort. Again, I cooked. I didn't know what else I could do. For one of the dinners, a friend suggested that I make chocolate pudding for dessert. To many people, homemade chocolate pudding was a pretty common thing to have with your family...not for me. My mom didn't have a lot of time for cooking since she had six children to care for, in addition to my dad who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. She always says that she didn't really cook -- she just fixed food. She tended to make things that didn't take too much of her time since there was always so much to take care of on a daily basis. That said, I never felt like I missed out on anything. We ate well.

For my first attempt at homemade pudding, I used a Tyler Florence recipe...it seemed really simple and I had all of the ingredients on hand. Also, I think when you make something for the first time, it's a good idea to go with a pretty basic recipe. I might make Smitten Kitchen's recipe next time - it looks really good and doesn't seem very complicated - it just uses actual chocolate vs. cocoa powder.

Homemade chocolate pudding honestly is such a treat - it's thick and chocolatey, but not too rich or heavy. A perfect, simple dessert. After my friends had plenty for dessert AND there was clearly enough for some leftover for my friend's mom, I doled out a little bowl of it for myself. It made me instantly happy. It was such a sad time, so having a few minutes of happiness was pretty sweet.

We even joked about the fact that we'd always considered opening the pudding packet and stirring it on the stove was "making" pudding. Turns out, we were so wrong.